|Wild West Motif Lightens US
Mood at Afghan Base
|The Associated Press
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TOMBSTONE, Afghanistan
A U.S. Stryker armored vehicle leaves the
Tombstone base in the Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan, Sunday,
Feb. 7, 2010. The sign at the entrance shows Wyatt Earp, the legendary
lawman of the American Wild West. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)
Welcome to the O.K. Corral.
Past the concrete slabs and guards in heavy combat gear, a wooden
board at the entrance to an allied military base in Afghanistan shows
an image of Wyatt Earp, the legendary lawman of the American Wild West.
His features are stern and angular. He wears a cowboy hat and a
drooping mustache, and a black-gloved hand holds a long-barreled
revolver across his chest.
The lore of the Wild West and the hard reality of southern
Afghanistan, the key battleground of the war between NATO forces and
Taliban insurgents, share a few things: danger, men with guns and
desert wilderness. At Tombstone, an allied base deep in the Taliban
stronghold of Helmand province, signs and images recalling the 1881
shootout in Tombstone, Arizona give the place a gunslinger motif.
The edgy, theme park touch suits the American soldiers.
"It's a little more entertaining," said Sgt. Maj. Robert Haemmerle,
who is attached to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of Task
Force Stryker. "It's got a little pizazz."
Many U.S. military installations in Afghanistan are named after
soldiers slain in combat, or units that first deployed at a particular
site. It's unusual to see base features that lighten the mood in a
region where the threat of death is a part of life.
British and Danish soldiers share the grounds with the Americans,
but don't have Wild West logos among their tents and vehicles. On the
U.S. side, an "O.K. Corral" sign has been hoisted in the parking area
of the Strykers, U.S. armored vehicles that carry infantry.
The gunfight in Tombstone happened near the O.K. Corral in
Tombstone. Earp and his two brothers, along with dentist and gambler
John H. "Doc" Holliday, were looking to disarm and arrest the Clanton
and the McLaury brothers for violating a town gun ordinance. Frank and
Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed in one of the most famous
shootouts in U.S. history.
The Tombstone base is near the Afghan town of Lashkar Gah, where
insurgents are active. It's adjacent to the far bigger Camp
Leatherneck, a U.S. Marine base, and close to the British Camp Bastion.
The Wild West theme seems to fit its small size.
"Out here is the John Wayne outpost, surrounded," said Daniel Smith
of Mount Holly, N.J., a civilian who supervises the dining hall and
other services for the American troops. "It gives a little home
feeling, a home away from home."
Civilian contractors say they have added the Wild West decorations
since last year. Door signs say Long Horn Saloon and Big Nose Kate's, a
reference to Holliday's companion, "Big Nose Kate" Elder. A gazebo
where soldiers chat and smoke is named after Tombstone's Crystal Palace
Saloon. On the dining hall walls, there are copies of old "Wanted, Dead
or Alive" posters and reward notices for the likes of the Sundance Kid,
Butch Cassidy and Jesse James.
One Las Vegas notice hints at a lynching:
"Notice! To Thieves, Thugs, Fakirs, and Bunko-Steerers ... If found
within the limits of this City after TEN O'CLOCK p.m., this night, you
will be invited to attend a GRAND NECK-TIE PARTY, the expense of which
will be borne by 100 Substantial Citizens."
Tech. Sgt. Efren Lopez, a military photographer from Phoenix,
Arizona, knows the original Tombstone and plans to compile a display
contrasting images of the base in Afghanistan with photographs of the
place back home. For example, he'll set photos of the hulking Stryker
vehicles alongside shots of stagecoaches.
"This reminds you a lot of the (American) West because of the
desert," Lopez said of southern Afghanistan.
There is a somber scene in the British area at Tombstone, where a
plaque on a Yorkshire Regiment memorial lists about 30 names of
soldiers who died. It tells the reader:
"When you go home, tell them of us, and say: For your tomorrow, we
gave our today."